Afghans and the European Refugee Crisis


Refugee crisisAfghans represent 21 percent of the over one million refugees who have fled to Europe since January 2015. By labelling Afghanistan as not sufficiently ‘war-torn’ and discriminating against Afghans at various stages of their journey, Europe has created a hierarchy amongst different nationalities in search of protection. The situation inside Syria is dire, but Europe cannot ignore those of other nationalities who are also fleeing persecution and violence, and are in need of international protection. All nationalities must be granted their right to a fair and thorough status determination procedure based on their individual circumstances, and meaningful access to protection.

Action is needed in four areas:

  1. Ensure a fair, thorough and effective asylum process for all nationalities
  2. Expand relocation to Afghans and accelerate family unity transfers from Greece to other EU countries
  3. Ensure Afghans and other non-Syrians in Turkey have meaningful access to temporary protection
  4. Commit to an expanded resettlement programme and safe alternative pathways into Europe

Afghans have suffered over 37 years of continuous armed conflict since 1979. Currently, the country continues to experience widespread violence, insecurity and human rights violations. After the 2014 presidential election that resulted in the embattled National Unity Government (NUG) and the withdrawal of NATO forces, violence continues to surge throughout the country. The Taliban has been making gains since 2014 and is currently refusing to engage in any peace talks with the NUG.3 Furthermore, ISIS has been gaining ground in Afghanistan in recent months.4 The renewed insurgency is applying increasing pressure on Afghanistan’s government resources, which are already diminished by reduced levels of international aid.5 Civilians continue to be deliberately targeted by violence. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that 2015 was the deadliest year for civilians across Afghanistan since 2009, with over 11,000 documented civilian casualties.6 Of these, 1,246 were women, a 37 percent increase for the same period in 2014.

This unrelenting violence has stunted Afghanistan’s development, and led to one of the largest and most protracted refugee and internally displaced person (IDP) populations in the world. This includes over 1.2 million IDPs in Afghanistan7 as well as over 2.6 million Afghan refugees worldwide.8 Much like the Syrian conflict, Afghanistan’s decades of displacement have been mostly shouldered by neighbouring countries. There are currently 950,000 registered and around two million unregistered Afghan refugees in Iran, as well as 1.6 million registered and an estimated one million unregistered Afghan refugees in Pakistan.9 Afghanistan’s displacement crisis continues. In 2015, internal displacement due to conflict reached unparalleled levels.10 In the first four months of 2016 over 117,000 people fled internally due to conflict.11 In addition, Afghans are facing increased forms of persecution and discrimination in countries such as Iran and Pakistan, in which they have sought refuge.12

As a result of ongoing targeted violence, persecution and displacement, Afghan children, women and men have long sought and been offered international protection in Europe, yet 2015 saw a significant increase in arrivals. Since January 2015, nearly 250,000 Afghans have arrived in Europe seeking international protection, with UNHCR reporting that in the first three months of 2016, 75 percent had fled due to violence and conflict.13 Arrivals into Europe include Afghan groups particularly vulnerable to violence and persecution. Women continue to suffer abuse, persecution and discrimination in Afghanistan; for example, 40 percent are married under the age of 18.14 Of the 90,000 unaccompanied children who made their way into Europe in 2015, half were from Afghanistan, and most were boys.15 IRC staff working with unaccompanied children from Afghanistan state that these boys have often been exposed to sexual violence and other forms of exploitation.16 Furthermore, 44 percent of Afghan arrivals into Greece were of Hazara ethnicity17 an ethnic group that has been consistently persecuted as targets of massacres and human rights violations by the Taliban, al-Qaeda and most recently by ISIS.18 These children, women and men are often in urgent need of international protection.

The majority of Afghans applying for protection in EU states in 2015 were successful; around 60 percent of Afghans received either refugee status or subsidiary protection. Yet this recognition rate consistently decreased in the first three months of 2016, averaging at 52 percent.19 This may be a result of EU states subjecting some nationalities to unfair or discriminatory asylum restrictions in the context of unprecedented numbers of asylum applications.

See full report at  15-06-16 European Refugee Crisis – Afghanistan briefing final